11 Feb 2009, 7:33pm
Latest Fire News
by admin

Fearless fighters storm through fire to save campers

Andrew Collard, Herald Sun, February 11, 2009 [here]

FEARLESS firefighters have stormed through fire to save 19 campers, including seven toddlers and babies.

As the firefighters led them to a river and hosed them under fire blankets, their parents begged: “Are we going to make it out of this?”

Andrew Collard, 30, and Brian Lawry, 46, who are Department of Sustainability and Environment workers, told of their extraordinary efforts to first storm through the fire in their truck and then save the eight families as flames engulfed them at a scenic park in Murrindindi at 3.30pm on Saturday.

Firefighter Brad Sexton tried to cut his way into the scenic reserve — which was destroyed by the start of the fire that later razed Marysville — with a bulldozer to rescue the group. He later learned his own house had burned down at Kinglake.

he firefighters herded the families, all campers from Melbourne, into the shallow water, parked their truck to protect them and then drove cars into the water.

They bundled the toddlers and babies, as young as six months, inside before covering them with a fire blanket and hoses.

“We knew there would be people in the reserve,” Mr Collard said last night.

“We went through the fire and, once we started to advance the campers out, the fire spotted up ahead, leaving us in the middle of the fire.

“One of our rangers, Mike Lauder, quickly made the decision that we were trapped and decided everyone should go to the Murrindindi River.

“We parked our fire truck in the river and put the kids and their mothers in one car, some other kids in another car with fire blankets over the top — we had hoses set up.

“The fire was around us on four sides.

We were constantly having embers land on us. We were just surrounded by fire.”

Colleagues said Mr Lauder was yesterday trying to save his own home at Toolangi, itself surrounded by a blaze.

Experiencing the fiercest flames of their lives and fire behaviour they had never seen before, Mr Lauder and his seven men worked for two hours fighting the flames licking at them before they were rescued by colleagues.

Mr Lawry, who witnessed Ash Wednesday as a teenager — he said Saturday was far worse — said all 19 would have been lost had it not been for Mr Lauder’s quick thinking to go to the river.

“They would have been trapped. They certainly couldn’t have (got out),” Mr Lauder said.

“They got very panicky at the start and wanted reassurance. They asked, ‘Are we going to get out of this?’

“The obvious answer is, ‘Yes’. You’re not going to say no. That would create panic.”

Firefighters cut their way through the park to reach the group and took them to safety two hours later.

Colleagues said Mr Sexton had tried desperately for half an hour to reach the group in his bulldozer but was pushed back by the flames.

Mr Collard and Mr Lawry were at work yesterday in Toolangi and said their office was still ringed by fire and without essential services.

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